Jason Nicholls is a jeweller and guitarist, whose company Endless Knobbing specialises in knobs from music gear cast in silver (he'll do them in platinum or gold too, if you like). Boutique British valve amp makers Audio Kitchen are using his knobs, but he'll make you a keyring for £55 and up. Now I'm going to have to get a full set of platinum fader caps for my Flickinger...
As you've probably already read, if you follow that kind of thing, Michel Waisvisz of Dutch sound lab STEIM died last week. Here's a rather wonderful clip of him in action at the NIME conference in 2003 - stick with it, the last minute or so is kind of awesome. In the interest of fairness, I should also link to this clip, from 1994, which looks like a Saturday Night Live sketch. In case you missed it, STEIM's funding troubles inspired a long and interesting debate over at Analog Industries.
Raymond Scott's son Stan Warnow is making a documentary about his father's live, and it looks wonderful. The Raymond Scott Documentary will be called 'On to something', although my favourite line is: "Putting notes together is fun". (Via Matrix Synth)
Mike from LA writes to tell me about his multimedia thesis (kids these days...) "I chose to look at the history of music technology through Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place", attempting to show how Radiohead showcases some of music's most important technologies, then back tracking to show just how these things came to be and how they affected music along the way." The site is K-i-d-a.com* and full of stuff about Kaoss Pads, Prophet 5s, Fender Rhodes' and the like. Nostalgically, the interface reminds me of one of those mid-90s interactive CDs developed by Coldcut or Peter Gabriel and released on CD-i. *Has a tiresome intro screen - if you mouseover the bottom right hand side, you'll find a 'Go' button...
Beavis Audio, makers of the Most Awesome Fuzzbox In The World Ever, are now selling the Beavis Board, an effects pedal developers kit for no-mark electronic beginners like me. The whole kit costs $249, including a breadboard/psu/switch combo, a decent multimeter, a manual and a huge stash of parts. It's designed to solve three familiar problems: "Problem 1: Learning Soldering Sucks! Problem 2: Breadboards can be a hassle! Problem 3: Parts Sourcing Blows!... Frustrated Newbie? I guarantee that you will be successful with the beavis board, even if you been frustrated by building in the past.". As a newbie who's barely even got to the frustrated stage, I LOVE this idea - I'm sure you could get the bits cheaper elsewhere, but who has the time? On the subject of Beavis... interesting times in the world of boutique pedals. Ooh La La is a new company set up by a former Zvex employee to mass-produce beautiful-looking pedals designed by other companies. They do various Devi Ever / Effector 13 pedals, have taken over the whole of Black Box Effects (previously here), and are apparently planning to work with Beavis next.
Lurking on the Gig Rig / Vintage & Rare Guitars stand at the London Music Show (Ooh La La Synth Mangler FTW!) was this - Electro Harmonix' brand-new Bass Blogger pedal. If you're thinking 'ick, crappy name', then it only gets worse. It's described on the EHX site as "Ultra subtle and perfect distortion creates the perfect dialog with your drummer." Geddit? It's like you're blogging to your drummer! Sending him irregular and poorly spelt updates about your latest, er, notes. In return, he can let you know that, actually, your notes would be better if you'd played them on a Mac. 2/10, Mr Harmonix. Must try harder.
I've never had a problem tuning guitars. I own a simple £15 tuner and use that. But people love solving the problem, over and over again, whether it's the Korg Pitchjack, or the (now heavily reduced) String Master 'Robotic' Guitar Tuner. Now the N-Tune is a $70 DIY kit to add a tuner with a ring of LEDs which sits underneath the volume knob on your guitar. There's a Fender version and a Gibson version, and they both come with a few coloured rings to match to your guitar. Or you could use a little pedal or whatnot...
The Plectrum Box is a nice looking heavy wood (maple or rosewood) box, the shape of a plectrum and the size of an outstretched hand. Inside, it's lined with velvet like a jewellery box, with room for plectrums, slides, capos and, well, anything else that a guitarist might want to keep safe in a small box. They're not cheap - £50 for black, £65 for the nicer wood finishes - but they're a pretty good gift for an impossible-to-buy-for guitarist.
Just back from the London International Music Show - two huge rooms of the same stuff you've seen everywhere before. The only new synth I noticed was the snoresome Juno Stage (big ugly muzak keyboard) and... well, that was it from the big companies, apart from the Korg Nano range of tiny little USB MIDI controllers. They were at the show but not plugged into anything. They are incredibly small, light and flimsy. Fortunately, they're also absurdly cheap. Even at just £49, the NanoKey is certainly the lamest - obviously built using clicky, rattly laptop keyboard technology. From the way it feels, it seems unlikely to have much velocity sensivity. You might be better off with something like this £50 Miditech Control 25, unless you're really stuck for space. At £59, the NanoPad is worth considering. The pads are a reasonable size, and the touchpad (from the PadKontrol) will be fun. The £59 NanoKontrol looks great, with a good number of knobs, buttons and sliders, useful (if rubbery) transport controls. It's hard to overstate how cheap and plasticky these things are. The faders are tiny and toy-like, the cases would need to be taped down to stop them moving across the table. The Kaosscilators on the next stand felt sturdy and chunky by comparison, and they will certainly not survive the Mackie Mixbusters. BUT at £60, the price seems right. The NanoKontrol undercuts anything in the market - as Peter says, the closest comparison is the Novation Nocturn, a weird DJ-oriented thing. It's probably more sturdy, but does much less. To sum up: try to see them in the flesh rather than just ordering them online, but if you're prepared for something tiny, cheap and plastic, they could be perfect... UPDATE: More pictures from the London Show over at Guitar Blog.
I am constantly in awe of real musicians. This clip (wait a mo while it winds forward to 44:20) is 'The Grid' from Koyaanisqatsi, which could be the greatest music video ever made - certainly the most copied. Anyway, listening to the score the other morning, wondering how it was played - it starts out slow, then gets absurdly fast (at 47:40), and carries on for about 16 minutes without drawing breath. In search of visual evidence, I found this awesome clip of Philip Glass rocking the Prophet 5 in 1982, and this college band playing something from Glassworks. I can't imagine being able to do that. Don't your fingers really hurt? Doesn't your brain melt?
The Wire recently featured Sasu Ripatti / Vladislav Delay on their cover. I'd never heard of him, but his studio is phenomally hot, from the lovely minimal white racks full of analogue gear (a Cwejman S1, Moogs, Vermona, Sherman etc) to the Japanese-style low-level desk, to the... well, what is that on his desk on the cover? (Answers, courtesy of Joker, Anon and Aaron, are that the little screen is an RTW Vectorscope, the green knob is a Crane Song Avocet monitor controller, and the wood-sided knob box is an Ursa Major Space Station reverb.) Lots more to read about Sasu at Swim Industries and The Music of Sound.
Watching this great demo video with Lou Reed and others playing Moog's new guitar, which can sustain or mute notes at will using some kind of mechanical feedback loop, I'm left thinking 'wow, that's pretty cool' and 'what kind of douche would stand up on stage with a gruesome, cheap, generic looking thing like that?' Oh yes, and it's $6,500. (There are NSFW shots of orange finishes, 80s body shapes and 50¢ gold knobs at Matrix Synth) Moog's last guitar experiment was the Gibson RD Guitar, which was also kind of ugly, but in a 'holy crap, the guitarist just beamed in from Neptune' way. And if you're thinking of going into the comments and saying 'It's not about how it looks, ladies', please don't. Electric guitars have always been 80% look, 20% sound. If you don't believe that, you haven't been paying attention. (Thanks to Tyler and everyone else who sent this in)
After a week with the Chimera BC16, here's what I'm thinking...
The good bits:
1. Looks great, and feels fantastically well made.
2. Intuitive, fun, educational interface. You'll learn more about how synths work in a few hours with this than with years of VST plugins. My 5 yr-old son immeditately fell in love with it, making helicopters and sirens and turning the sound down, randomly turning knobs, then turning it up to see what came out. Nothing is labelled, so you have to listen.
3. It makes a huge range of noises. The digital multi-waveform oscillator will annoy purists, but it's versatile. A reasonably effective two-oscs-in-one system can sound pretty fat.
4. It's a quirky, unique synth, hand made in Britain and absolutely in the lineage of EMS, EDP, OSCar.
5. The sound is immediate, ballsy and gritty. Huge bass, huge brightness.
6. It's absolutely a real synth, not a toy. Compared with the Tenori On, this is a real (if simple) instrument. It makes any sound you can patch, not a bunch of presets.
6. It has no blue LEDs, but several red and green ones.
7. It's totally self contained - 6xAAA batteries last a few evenings. There is a power supply on the way (soon).
8. In theory, they can make these in any colour, including clear. That will be hot.
9. It's £136 shipped - the price of a Squier strat or an effects pedal, cheaper than many soft synths. The price is crucial, because it makes most of the other issues irrelevant.
The bad bits:
1. It's really hardware in Beta (track the updates on their blog). If you can wait a year, I think Chimera will either be out of business (and BC16s worth a fortune on eBay), or shipping a more refined version.
2. The output from the 1/8th inch headphone output is super hot, and fairly noisy. To get the best sound for recording, you need to make a mini banana plug -> 1/4 inch cable and take the sound direct. (They gave me one for this review and will be selling them soon)
3. The MIDI is being debugged as I write - barely works on mine, but should be much improved on the models being shipped now. If you can't imagine using it without midi, it's possibly not for you (yet).
4. There are a tonne of digital artefacts from the oscillators. I think it's cool, but if you're looking for silky analogue tone, buy a Moog Voyager at 14 times the price. Similarly, you're unlikely to write a love sonnet about the filter.
5. Delivery is flaky at the moment.
6. It's a perfect portable synth, but if you pull one out on a bus (let alone a 'plane), someone will call the bomb squad.
My recent computer woes mean I can't post any new sound samples, but the tried and tested 'loop random squiggles and add breakbeats' method was fun while it lasted.
Hard drive is fine, motherboard/psu/something has died enough to be boring. What should I get next? I'm completely open to suggestions: Mac/PC/laptop/desktop. My only critera: 1) It should be surprisingly cheap. 2) If it works with an Emu 1820m interface, that means I don't have to buy a new one. 3) It doesn't need to be ultra quiet or ultra powerful, it just has to work. I'm not running 50 convolution reverbs. And yes, I need to clean the lens on my camera. Tip: Don't let a 2 year-old eating churros take photos.